So, finally, we pitched up at the foot of the Hanson Aggregates access road above Llanfairfechan, parked the truck and set off along the footpath that eventually, after many dog-legs and climbs, reaches the plateau of the mountain. Incidentally, I know it isn't a mountain any more, thanks to the quarry, but it was once and I am still blooming well going to refer to it as one. Call me a traditionalist if you like. The weather forecast was for a brilliantly sunny day, which is probably why after half an hour's walking we found ourselves crouching beside a dry-stone dyke, sheltering from a strong westerly inundation of rain. I almost hadn't packed the waterproofs that morning, but Petra had insisted we brought them. 'Nuff said. Then a thick mist descended (it certainly felt like mountain mist...) forcing us further behind the wall and into an early and soggy attack on the cheese and onion pasties we'd bought in Porthmadog that morning.
|Dinas, from the north west|
|Dinas and Penmaenmawr from the south east, and the Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen path.|
After a while the path eased up and we arrived on a plateau, where a ruinous concrete building revealed a rusty old machine- a fly-wheel could just be made out behind a fallen wall. In front was a small holding pond and evidence of some leats running towards the structure. Inside there was a modern-ish turbine or impeller while in the other, older compartment of the structure was a victorian three-cylinder pump. I looked at this for a while and came to the tentative conclusion that this must have been for "hushing" the rock faces of spoil, the pump providing a strong pressure jet of water. At this altitude the quarry hardly would have needed to be pumped out.
|Who said quarries weren't picturesque?|
|I forgot to Photoshop out my walking pole, but perhaps it needs a little tribute as I was so glad of it coming down the track again!|
After mooching around and looking over the lip of the quarry face, where the wind was strong enough to send you flying backwards, we headed up the hill to a ramshackle range of structures looking as if they had strayed from a Sergio Leone movie. Here, various dire warnings greeted us on signs installed by the quarry company. I guess if I owned the land and was responsible and concerned about litigation, I would put signs up too. I think mine would be worded something like "You're big enough and ugly enough to think for yourselves, so don't come crying to me etc..." I was, however, disappointed that there were no signs featuring the falling man with flared trousers, an omission, I think. These structures here were compressor houses and some smaller buildings that might have been cabans or the like. The larger ones were made of concrete, a material readily to hand on site, while the others, which must have been older, were expertly constructed from Whin Stone, a hard, brittle form of rock which chips sharply and is difficult to build with. It must have overlaid the granite as overburden and used as it was easily to hand.
A very steep incline ran down from this level, the top level of Penmaenmawr- and there was no safe way to access the lower level, where several more interesting structures lay. That would have to wait for another time. Instead, we contented ourselves with the panoramic views from every angle, but especially of the magnificent modern quarry pit. I know that the mountain has been despoiled by the quarry- and that the quarry masters are like some mischievious agent of destruction, obliterating not only the pretty views but also anything of worth archaeologically which gets in the way of making money. I admit to being one of those people who love scenes like this, although I regularly get my fingers burnt when artifacts from an earlier and more colourful quarrying era are destroyed by the very process that fascinates me. C'est la vie.
Having explored the top area, we made our way down again to try the old quarryman's path that clings on a precipitous shelf round the mountain to the floor of the West Quarry. I don't have any particular fear of heights- it's the darkness in a mine that terrifies me, but even I was aware that the exposure here in places was considerable. Definitely not something to try if standing on a chair makes you nervous! Looking at the 1890 maps the path seems to have been the main route for workmen coming from Llanfairfechan, but that it is also joined by a steeper path coming up, I can only assume that these old quarrymen were made of stern stuff. The track has collapsed in several places and sometimes progress can only be made by inching along a very narrow ledge- it's very dangerous, but as I said before, you are big enough etc...just don't say I told you to do it.
Some of the photos have been converted to mono because I hadn't realised that I'd left my trusty Nikon set at "extra vivid" after an expedition in the rain and gloom to Diffwys. In some of the shots I just couldn't get the colour under control, so apologies for the driechness!
There are several sites on the web that describe the history of the quarry and the mountain, so I won't bore you by repeating the information here. For the interested, they are:
Penmaenmawr History site
Geotopoi on Penmaenmawr Granite Quarries. Several posts on this excellent blog about the quarries and Penmaenmawr.
Another point of view about the quarries - and flying saucers! (keep taking the tablets, guys) Megalithic Portal
The superb Jaggers Heritage site
Some more random snaps of our explore: